United Nations officials today marked the International Day of UN Peacekeepers by voicing gratitude for the work that blue helmets do every day in dangerous missions worldwide and mourning those who have fallen in service during the past six decades.
“Peacekeeping has developed into a flagship enterprise of our Organization,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in an official message to mark the Day, which celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of the establishment of the first UN peacekeeping mission.
More than 110,000 uniformed personnel from 115 countries currently serve in 20 operations around the world, and Mr. Ban said he has observed first-hand in his travels over the past year the impact the military troops and police officers have in countries trying to rebuild after war.
“I have seen refugees returning home, children heading back to school, citizens once again secure under the rule of law. I have seen whole societies moving, with the help of the peacekeepers, from devastation to rejuvenation.”
The Secretary-General noted that peacekeepers perform an array of tasks well beyond any narrow definition of their job, including training police, supporting elections, building bridges, repairing schools, protecting women from sexual violence, disarming ex-combatants and helping flood victims.
“Thanks to their efforts, life-saving humanitarian assistance can be delivered and economic development can begin.”
In his message, General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim lauded “the professionalism, dedication and courage” of the peacekeepers. He noted that the UN has recently approved the establishment of two new missions – in Sudan’s Darfur region (UNAMID) and in the neighbouring countries of Chad and the Central African Republic (MINURCAT).
Mr. Kerim said the demands of UN peacekeeping had become so complex over the years that it was necessary last year to set up the new Department of Field Support.
“Our job in the General Assembly is to support the peacekeepers in political, financial and logistical aspects, so that they can get their jobs done on the ground,” he said.
In a taped message, the UN Messenger of Peace and actor-director George Clooney said the world owed the peacekeepers a debt of gratitude for the work they do.
“These brave men and women go to place where few others will and risk their lives for peace,” he said. “I am proud to continue my work with the UN to remind those in the United States and around the world that peace is not easy and, like war, must be waged.”
Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno, in remarks to a wreath-laying ceremony at UN Headquarters in New York, stressed that the UN cannot meet the demands on its own.
“We must build strong partnerships to ensure that we can move from providing initial security to rebuilding shattered societies,” he said. “Our real impact on the ground will determine the support we have from the people we serve, and that, in the end, is the core of the United Nations.”
At least 2,400 peacekeepers have died in service since 1948 and last year alone 90 people lost their lives, Mr. Guéhenno noted.
“We pay tribute to their sacrifice and dedication in pursuit of the noble goals of the United Nations.”
Later, he told a press conference that it was important that UN peacekeeping operations always be established under clear mandates and with strong support from Member States so that the incoming mission is not viewed as another party to the conflict.
“We may become the victim of our own success if peacekeeping is seen as the instrument that can be applied to any situation. That can be very dangerous… We must not succumb to the illusion that military deployment could substitute for a solid political process.”
Under-Secretary-General Susana Malcorra, head of the Department of Field Support, stressed it was vital to lay the groundwork for any peacekeeping mission so that resources can be mobilized rapidly to deal with potentially fast-moving situations.
In other events to mark the Day, ceremonies, multimedia exhibitions and other events have been staged today at UN offices around the world, including in Geneva, Cyprus, Kenya, Lebanon, Liberia, Sudan, Thailand and Timor-Leste. Messages of support for peacekeepers have also poured in from outside the UN, including from the European Union and the African Union.